Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger exit from ECOWAS – economic and security implications

On January 28, 2024, a significant regional development unfolded as Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger formally requested to withdraw from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), one of the continent’s most notable regional blocs. In a joint press statement released by the junta-led countries, the countries stated “ECOWAS, under the influence of foreign powers, betraying its founding principles, has become a threat to its member states and its populations whose happiness it is supposed to ensure” (Okafo, 2024).

To break the camel’s back, the trio, following in the footsteps of Ghana’s foremost president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, who demanded independence now, have declared their resolve to defy Article 91 of the bloc’s Treaty, which stipulates that member countries remain bound by their obligations to the regional bloc for a period of one year after notifying their withdrawal. They want to leave immediately.

In a letter addressed to the ECOWAS on February 7 by the Foreign Affairs Ministry of the Malian government, stated “the government of the Republic of Mali is no longer bound (by the) time constraints mentioned in article 91 of the treaty. The letter further noted that the ministry has decided to “withdraw, without delay” due to ECOWAS’ desecration of its own texts – citing when the organization failed to meet its obligations by closing member states’ borders with Mali in 2022, denying it access to the sea.

Analysts have indicated the severe impact this decision will have on the trio. However, what implications does this development have on Ghana?

Economic ramifications

Article 27 of the ECOWAS treaty highlights the need for economic integration within the sub-region. To achieve this, member states are admonished to ensure the gradual removal of all obstacles to free movement of persons, services and capital (Paragraph 1 of Article 27). The presence of this protocol has enabled countries within the bloc to increase trade over time, despite the bottlenecks restricting the full implementation of the protocol.

Ghana has enjoyed steady economic relations with the three countries, particularly with Burkina Faso. According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), Ghana has relished an increased annualized rate of 17.6percent over two decades of trading with Mali, from US$1.96million in 1996 to US$82.4million in 2019.

In 2019, Ghana exported US$82.4million to Mali while importing US$12.3million in the same period. This highlights the economic ties, no matter how ‘small’, which exist between the two West African countries. Unlike Mali, Burkina Faso borders Ghana to the immediate north, and thus, has a greater percentage of trading with Ghana.  According to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade, Ghana exports to Burkina Faso amounted to US$277.69 million in 2019. In reverse order, Burkina Faso’s exports to Ghana totalled US$53.08 million in 2022.

Commodity-wise, it is estimated by the Ghana Incentive-Based Risk-Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (GIRSAL) that Ghana currently imports 90 percent of its fresh tomatoes from Burkina Faso, with a national consumption demand in excess of 800,000 metric tonnes per annum (B&FT Online, 2024).

B&FT also estimates that Burkina Faso and Mali account for almost 70 percent of Ghana’s livestock imports while in 2021, the main destinations of onion exports from Niger were Ghana (US$ 21.7 million). Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture estimates that onion imports from Niger, currently valued at US$ 26 million, will increase to US$ 30 million by the close of 2024.

The numbers above point to a major economic leak for Ghana in the wake of the trio’s exit from the ECOWAS. This is because through the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLs) – the main operational tool for promoting a Free Trade Area within West Africa – Ghana is relieved from customs duties levied on imports and exports as well as some non-tariff barriers. The Ghana Export Promotion Authority states that:

“As a member of ECOWAS, Ghana benefits from the fact that there are numerous international Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA). The most important one is the ECOWAS-EU EPA, which led to the gradual removal of trade restrictions between the partners”

As highlighted by the Global Credit Rating (GCR), there is an expected wide-ranging inflationary impact in the domestic markets of all three countries, which will reflect in the future prices of food commodities imported into neighbouring countries such as Ghana (see B&FT report 2024).  A rise in the cost of imports and exports for Ghanaian traders is imminent due to the absence of regulations which enable traders to enjoy exemptions. This decline in trade relations will thus affect Ghana’s economy, affect the purchasing power of traders and consumers in general. In simple terms, there is a tendency for reduced bilateral economic relations between Ghana and the individual countries.

This means Ghana will lose out on a significant portion of its GDP as consumers face acute shortages or begin to pay more for the same or even less due to a possible re-introduction of tariffs. Given the current position of the Ghanaian economy, further instability in international trade will worsen the woes of the state. Already, Ghana has defaulted on its debt servicing program, forcing it to restructure most of its external debts to favour an IMF bailout.

How safe will our borders be?

In a world which is becoming more interconnected, both for better and for worse, international cooperation has become ever more crucial in dealing with the raging complex security threats at both global and national levels. The exchange of information between trusted allies and partners is at the heart of devising and executing any joint security action.

Now, second only to Afghanistan for the highest number of terrorist actions and resulting deaths, is Burkina Faso – which shares a land border with Ghana. A report by the African Defense Forum, based on the Global Terrorism Index said, Burkina Faso and Mali together account for 52 per cent of all terrorism-related deaths in Africa (ADF, 2023).

To deal with the butterfly effect of terrorism, a number of joint agreements have been signed among the Sahel countries. Notable among them are the Multinational Joint Taskforce (MNJTF), the Group of Five for the Sahel (G-5 Sahel) and the Accra Initiative (AI) (Birikorang & Abdallah, 2023). The Accra Initiative which is the most recent collaboration established in September 2017 faces a bigger setback in the face of the Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso exit from ECOWAS. The pillars of the AI are:

(1) information and intelligence sharing

(2) training of security and intelligence personnel

(3) conducting joint cross-border military operations to strengthen border security.

One of the critical pillars of counter-terrorism is intelligence sharing. Kruys (2007) succinctly captures it saying: “Operations to counter terrorism and insurgency depend largely on timely accurate intelligence”. This position is also highlighted by Danoy and Corbett (2022) who posit that “as any good policymaker, planner, or military commander will tell you, the formulation and execution of an effective national security strategy is dependent on the availability of sound intelligence”.

However, as acknowledged in the introductory paragraph of this sub-section, intelligence sharing is firmly rooted in trust. In the wake of the trio’s exit from the ECOWAS, there is an imminent threat to the trust enjoyed among these countries if it has not already broken. This argument is rooted in the basis for which Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have decided to end their longstanding relationship with the regional block – that the ECOWAS “has become a threat to its member states”.

The trio’s lack of confidence in the ECOWAS can and will potentially be transferred to all other members of the group. This will reflect in restricted information sharing and collaboration between individual member states, such as Ghana and the trio. Burkina Faso’s closeness to Ghana is a greater worry considering the heightened security crises in Burkina Faso and the impending general election in Ghana. What becomes of the relationship between the members of the AI? Intelligence sharing once again can be hampered considering the fact that the trio are part of the agreement. A terrorism spillover effect can be triggered by this new development.


  1. Ghana must re-access its bilateral relations with Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger and strengthen cordial relations. This may involve re-negotiating bilateral trade agreements.
  2. Given the potential security implications of the trio’s withdrawal from ECOWAS, Ghana should bolster its border security measures. This may involve increasing patrols, investing in technology for border surveillance, and enhancing collaboration with neighbouring countries to combat transnational security threats.
  3. With the potential disruption to food and livestock imports from Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, Ghana should explore diversifying its sources of agricultural products. This could involve investing in local agricultural production or establishing trade agreements with other countries to ensure food security and stabilize prices in the domestic market.
  4. Ghana should advocate for reforms within ECOWAS to address concerns raised by member states. This will help in promoting transparency, accountability, and inclusivity in the decision-making processes.

Final comments

The ongoing impasse between ECOWAS on one side and Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger on the other end has myriad impacts on individual states such as Ghana. While many analysts are focused on the worsening plight to be experienced by the trio, we must not lose sight of the spill-over effect.

The arguments being raised by the trio regarding the inability of ECOWAS to protect the interests of its members have been trumpeted in many writings. If the necessary actions needed to build trust are not factored into the future of ECOWAS, there is a likelihood of other dissidents in the future. Ghana has a role to play considering its position in the formation of ECOWAS and its respected position within the sub-region.

>>>the writer is an International Relations and Regional Integration Analyst. He can be reached via davequaye@gmail.com and or +233 24 166 4181

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